There is a lot of rough terrain between Pike's Peak and the Pacific, and it has bred a lot of tough football teams. The Pacific Coast Conference plays some of the fanciest football in the country; and though the Rose Bowl contest has been a California monopoly for so long that people tend to forget its northern sector, teams from Oregon and Washington can never be ruled out of the excitement.
The Skyline Conference, in a vast and sparsely settled area, has problems of logistics and players to contend with; but the brand of football played there is steadily improving. The independents and the lesser conferences of the Far West include a number of fine small schools which play a game of big conference caliber. Although it has only one team that compelled inclusion in my eleven top elevens, the West may well provide some of the best and flashiest play of 1954.
THE PACIFIC COAST
Since the rules do not permit a Rose Bowl team to succeed itself, the U.C.L.A. squad will not be making the cross-town bus trip to the Bowl this New Year's Day. However, this ruling does not prevent them from winning the championship, and there are many reasons to believe that they will. The team has probably the finest line in college football, with Tackle Jack Ellena and Guard Jim Salsbury outstanding. An unsung great at fullback, Bob Davenport, and little Primo Villanueva in the tailback slot will be more dangerous than the rugged Paul Cameron, now departed. U.C.L.A. has one of the finest and best-organized coaching staffs in the country, headed by Red Sanders?and they will need all of this to contend with mighty Maryland the night of October 1st. U.C.L.A. indicated its potential power by crushing San Diego Navy 67-0 last Saturday night.
Southern Cal rose to the heights last year when it beat California 32-20 and sank to the depths in the Notre Dame debacle, 14-48. But this year there is a quiet confidence around the practice field. The material is there?Tailbacks Aramis Dandoy and Sophomore Jon Arnett are both excellent ball carriers, speedy and elusive. Quarterback Jim Contratto also figures largely in Coach Jess Hill's plans?he will shift from the blocking back position in the single wing to become the quarterback on the winged T and split T. Southern Cal served notice on the competition when it beat Washington State last Friday night, 39-0.
A majority opinion on the coast feels that Cal will represent the P.C.C. in the Rose Bowl. Some feel that the Golden Bears also will win the title. Coach Lynn Waldorf has this to say to both opinions: "We will probably have the most inexperienced team that we have had since I've been at California. However, we do have better size in the line than we had a year ago, and we should have good balance between running and passing." Pappy is not kidding about the increase in size. There are six tackles to pick from who weigh above 220. Matt Hazeltine at center was selected on many All-American teams last year, and Paul Larson at quarterback is one of the most gifted performers ever to wear the Blue and Gold. But Rose Bowl hopefuls got a jolt last Saturday when Cal went down before Oklahoma, 13-27, in the week's big intersectional game (see pages 70-71).
This team may well be the sleeping giant of the conference. Eight regulars have returned, headed by the sensational George Shaw at quarterback and Captain Ron Pheister at center, another All-P.C.C. selection. Shaw has won top backfield honors ever since his freshman year in 1951. He and Oregon got off to a running start by wrecking Idaho last Saturday, 41-0.
Coach Chuck Taylor's squad is stripped this year?fifteen lettermen lost, including the greatest aerial combination on the coast: Quarterback Bobby Garrett and Sam Morley at end. But Chuck has a happy faculty of developing dangerous teams and has some outstanding men returning in Halfback Ernie Dorn, John Stewart, end, and Tackle Matt Armitage. "We have our problems," Chuck told me, "but I'm sure we will come up with a good team."
Sandy Lederman, a sophomore last year, was the Coast's second-ranked passer, but he is being pushed this season by Bob Cox, just up from the frosh. Fullback Mike Monroe will probably make the Huskies' running game 50 percent more effective than last year. But the line is green?gone are the starters from end to end. The Huskies' season rests on the performance of Earl Monlux at guard and such sophomore stalwarts as 225-pound George Strugar and 200-pound Bill Till, both tackles.
The Cougars' line is composed of seasoned men, two deep at most positions. Chuck Beckel is a competent fullback. Arnie Pelleur and Rush Quakenbush are established ends. Bob Miller, 205-pound sophomore halfback, looks like a comer. Last year's team scored fine victories over other conference teams, including Washington and Oregon. Improvement is indicated, despite the loss to powerful Southern Cal last Friday, 0-39.